Net seeks original Spanish fare

CANNES — Christopher Columbus, Hernan Cortes, Francisco Pizarro, Jerry Perenchio.

Jerry Perenchio?

Perenchio’s Univision Communications is attempting a new Spanish conquest: to open up the U.S. Latino market for Spanish-lingo films. And he’s focusing not on Hollywood blockbusters dubbed into Spanish, but pics made originally in Spanish from far-flung Madrid, Mexico City or Buenos Aires.

Top U.S. Spanish-lingo net Univision is closing on a tranche of titles from Spain’s biggest sales agents to screen them in a Sunday-night slot. It also is in talks to pick up movies from Latin American producers.

Univision’s backer, telenovela powerhouse Venevision, is looking to bow its own theatrical distrib operation, reportedly teaming with U.S. cinema loop Landmark Theatres.

To date, Univision Network’s L.A.-based Miguel Kahan has inked U.S. rights to “The Penitent Tree” from Kevin Williams Associates, and is negotiating to take Mateo Gil’s “Nobody Knows Anybody” from Sogepaq.

Kahan is talking to Lolafilms for titles, and has taken both “I Will Survive” and “The Havana Quartet” from Aurum.

Univision also is in ongoing conversations with Titan Producciones to acquire key top pics from the Mexican production house.

The deals are not huge: Per sources, the average price offered by Univision is $40,000 to $60,000 per title for free TV rights in the U.S.

Startup paybox HBO Latino has also moved on Spanish pics, including Mexican Alejandro Gamboa’s “La segunda noche” from KWA and “Love Can Seriously Damage Your Health” and “The Stolen Years” from Sogepaq.

If Univision’s experiment works, Spanish and Latin American producers can look to a new revenue stream. As the world market contracts for foreign-lingo titles, that’s something to ease the woes.

That is, if the experiment works.

Pitching original Spanish-lingo pics to Spanish audiences in the U.S. may seem like a no-brainer. But while Hispanic auds are the fastest-growing moviegoing group in the U.S., they seem rarely interested in seeing Spanish-lingo pics — or even Hispanic-themed movies.

Most Spanish-lingo pics made in Latin America or Spain are essentially art pics skewed toward upscale demos — hardly the social characteristic of the U.S. Latino population. U.S. Latino TV fare is often two back-to-back telenovelas each night.

To cover all potential Latino demos, P&A spending is sizable on a pic release.

The U.S. Latino audience is also divided into nationality subgroups. The only Spanish-films films that usually work among Mexicans in the U.S. are Mexican pics.

Prior attempts at making inroads into the U.S. Latino market are strewn with corpses.

One such attempt was Latin Universe. Created by former Universal exec Ted Perkins and Hispanic marketing specialist Juan Carlos Nieto, Latin Universe bowed Mexican femme-in-trouble pic “Santitos” in the U.S. but the pic tanked. Latin Universe has since shuttered.

Plan ahead

Univision’s ploy reportedly is to get a foot in the door of a more upscale, if minority, Latino audience, hence enticing potential advertisers who want to reach more moneyed Hispanic consumers.

A stranded and stripped Spanish pic slot on the Univision TV channel could create just that advertising environment.

If any films are going to work beyond art circuits in the U.S., apart from English-lingo star-driven vehicles from Spain, these could be smaller pics from Mexico.

“We really believe in the U.S. market much more than the Spanish market,” Titan co-producer Christian Valdelievre said.

As Valdelievre pointed out, Mexican and Mexican Americans form 58% of the U.S. Hispanic population. That forms some sort of homogenous Hispanic market.

“The purchasing power of Mexicans and American Mexicans in the U.S. is now equal to that of all Mexicans in Mexico,” Valdelievre said. “And Mexicans in the U.S are very much in touch with Mexico. They’re always traveling back and forth and they’re looking for films they can identify with.”

One of the rare hits on limited release in the U.S. was the Mexican pic “The Other Conquest,” about the Spanish conquest of Mexico. It made $1 million in its Los Angeles run.

“I still believe in the potential,” said distributor Mitchell Goldman, who formed distrib company Hombre de Oro to handle the release of “Conquest.” “But you have to be careful about the pictures you choose. It requires at least 2,000 screens, and that eliminates a lot of them,” he added.

Venevision isn’t likely to make such print spreads. But the experiment still remains enticing.

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more